Sunday, July 26, 2009

Virtual Life

Tom Boellstorff wrote Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. He describes virtual life in Second Life on the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge. If you connect to the audio on the program, go to 26:00 to hear his segment. It's about eight minutes long.

Boellstorff discusses many different activities on Second Life, from hanging out to getting (virtually) married, from running businesses (some people make $10,000 per month on Second Life) to learning foreign languages.

Virtual worlds are great for role play. Boellstorff talks about users who change their avatars' gender or race or age. Since users don't know the "real" user they are interacting with, according to Boellstorff, they get to know each other from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Just as relationships or emotions were intermediated by older technology such as, say, love letters, Second Life and other virtual worlds provide an immersive intermediation of emotions through role play.

While role play in virtual worlds lets users explore different sides of their personalities, it also has educational applications. This video shows an example of training for treating a heart attack victim in Second Life.

Linden Labs, the owner of Second Life, publishes economic statistics of activity. Nielson Games compares Second Life with other virtual worlds here. Second Life usage spans all ages and geographies, with older uses spending more time online than younger users. Linden Labs generates about $0.87 of revenue per hour used, and total hours run around 30 million per month.

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